The Lewis R French, captained by Garth Wells, is one of 17 windjammers that will gather in Boothbay Harbor for the annual Windjammer Day festival, celebrating the region’s maritime history. Photo courtesy of Jenny Tobin

Boothbay Harbor will host the 59th annual Windjammer Days, a weeklong festival celebrating the area’s history of windjammers from Sunday, June 27, through Saturday, July 3.

Windjammer Days is largely free and usually draws anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 people throughout the week, according to Peter Ripley, a director of Friends of Windjammer Days, a nonprofit that organizes the celebration each year. Some of the most popular events include a lobster eating contest, boat parades, a pirate duel for children, and fireworks.

Ripley said the festival is considered “the unofficial start to the tourist season and it gets everyone fired up for the summer.”

Windjammers were traditionally commercial sailing vessels with multiple masts and shallow hulls.

Windjammer Days began in 1962 when Captains David and Marion Dash noticed a gathering of windjammers in the harbor waiting for the fog to lift while sitting on their porch. They later sent invitations to schooners sailing throughout New England to gather in Boothbay Harbor to kick-off to summer, reconnect with the community, support local businesses and welcome visitors.

While the festival is full of events, Ripley said the main attraction remains the windjammers gathering in the harbor, like they once did centuries ago when they were only used as cargo ships.

Seventeen windjammers from New England will gather in Boothbay Harbor for the public to admire. The historic schooners will glide into the harbor around 1 p.m. on Wednesday, June 30 and depart the following morning.

“They’re so breathtaking when they sail in,” said Ripley. “It takes you back in time to when that’s all there was. Now they just carry passengers, but long ago they carried cargo like coal, lumber, limestone and Maine’s other exports.”

The celebration is also lengthened by the Tall Ships festival, which celebrates Maine’s bicentennial. Tickets for the festival, running from June 25-27, costs $20 per person to tour three tall ships: the Spirit of Bermuda, Lynx and Santa Maria.

Most of the festival events are taking place as they have in the past, but Ripley said the nonprofit decided against having a street parade this year due to COVID-19, as the event usually draws a large crowd.

“Instead of having a street parade we’re having a porch parade, similar to what New Orleans did for Mardi Gras this year,” Ripley explained. “People can get a map and they can ride around to these decorated houses then vote on their favorite.”

Although the sight of over a dozen windjammers in the harbor is breathtaking any year, Ripley said celebrating the schooners this year and remembering their history is especially important after the boats, which mainly serve as tourist attractions, didn’t leave their docks last year due to COVID-19.

This rings true for Jenny Tobin, co-owner of the Lewis R. French, considered to be the last schooner remaining of thousands built in Maine during the 19th century. The boat once shuttled cargo like lumber and granite, but now holds only passengers on overnight trips around Maine’s coast.

“We were closed all of last year because of the pandemic, as were other windjammers, so we’re happy that business is booming this year and we’re able to celebrate,” said Tobin.

The Lewis R. French is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year by making the voyage to Christmas Cove in South Bristol where the boat was first launched in April 1851. The historic windjammer is stopping at Windjammer Days on its return trip to its current port in Rockland.

“We’re delighted to be coming back and we’re able to make the festival part of our anniversary celebration, especially after last year was a particularly hard year for the windjammers,” said Tobin. “It’s quite a sight and an honor to be there with all the windjammers. You feel like you’re a part of their history.”

Although her ship only carries passengers now, Tobin said the boat has remained as original as possible to what it looked like when it was first built. This gives passengers the experience of being taken back in time as they cruise through the islands that dot Maine’s rugged coast.

“We raise all the sails and anchor by hand,” said Tobin. “These boats don’t have inboard engines, so she has 3,000 square feet of sail and her masts are 80 feet tall. You’re a part of Maine’s history when you sail.”

 

This story was updated at 9:05 a.m. Thursday, June 24 to correct the date the windjammers will arrive in Boothbay Harbor. 


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